Postal - Download the EBook StampsInformational Site Network Informational

A Lesson Of To-day
About Tree-planting
Accounts In Farming
Agricultural Exhibitions
Alkalis Salt Ashes Lime
Bones Phosphates Guano
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Co-operation In Farming
Commercial Fertilizers Gypsum
Draining Generally

More from

What I Know Of Farming

Summing Up

In the foregoing essays, I have set forth, as clearly as I could, the
facts within my knowledge which seem calculated to cast light upon the
farmer's vocation, and the principles or rules of action which they have
suggested to my mind. I have been careful not to throw any false,
delusive halo over this indispensable calling, and by no means to induce
the belief that the farmer's lot is necessarily and uniformly a happy
one. I know that his is not the royal road to rapid acquisition, and
that few men are likely to amass great wealth by quietly tilling the
soil. I know, moreover, that what passes for farming among us is not so
noble, so intellectual, so attractive, a pursuit as it might and should
be--that most farmers might farm better and live to better purpose than
they do. Of all the false teaching, I most condemn that which flatters
farmers as though they were demigods and their calling the grandest and
the happiest ever followed by mortals, when the hearer, unless very
green, must feel that the speaker doesn't believe one word of all be
utters; for, if he did, he would be farming, instead of living by some
profession, and talking as though his auditors did not know wheat from
chaff. I regard the Agriculture of this country as very far below the
standard which, it should ere this have reached: I hold that the great
mass of our cultivators might and should farm better than they do, and
that better farming would render their sons better citizens and better
men. If a single line of this little work should seem calculated to
cajole its readers into self-complacency rather than instruct them, I
beg them to believe that their impression wrongs my purpose.

I am fully aware that others have treated my theme with fuller knowledge
and far greater ability than I brought to its discussion. "Then why not
leave them the field?" Simply because, when all have written who can
elucidate my theme, at least three-fourths of those who ought to study
and ponder it will not have read any treatise whatever upon
Agriculture--will hardly have yet regarded it as a theme whereon books
should be written and read. And, since there may be some who will read
this treatise for its writer's sake--will read it when they could not be
persuaded to do like honor to a more elaborate and erudite work--I have
written in the hope of arousing in some breasts a spirit of inquiry with
regard to Agriculture as an art based on Science--a spirit which, having
been awakened, will not fall again into torpor, but which will lead on
to the perusal and study of profounder and better books.

In the foregoing essays, I have sought to establish the following

1. That good farming is and must ever be a paying business, subject,
like all others, to mischances and pull-backs, and to the general law
that the struggle up from nothing to something is ever an arduous and
almost always a slow process. In the few instances where wealth and
distinction have been swiftly won, they have rarely proved abiding.
There are pursuits wherein success is more envied and dazzling than in
Agriculture; but there is none wherein efficiency and frugality are more
certain to secure comfort and competence.

2. Though the poor man must often go slowly, where wealth may attain
perfection at a bound, and though he may sometimes seem compelled to
till fields not half so amply fertilized as they should be, it is
nevertheless inflexibly true that bounteous crops are grown at a profit,
while half and quarter crops are produced at a loss. A rich man may
afford to grow poor crops, because he can afford to lose by his year's
farming, while the poor man cannot. He ought, therefore, to till no more
acres than he can bring into good condition--to sow no seed, plow no
field, where he is not justified in expecting a good crop. Better five
acres amply fertilized and thoroughly tilled than twenty acres which can
at best make but a meager return, and which a dry or a wet season must
doom to partial if not absolute failure.

3. In choosing a location, the farmer should resolve to choose once for
all. Roaming from State to State, from section to section, is a sad and
far too common mistake. Not merely is it true that "The rolling stone
gathers no moss," but the farmer who wanders from place to place never
acquires that intimate knowledge of soil and climate which is essential
to excellence in his vocation. He cannot read the clouds and learn when
to expect rain, when he may look for days of sunshine, as he could if he
had lived twenty years on the same place. Choose your home in the East,
the South, the Center, the West, if you will (and each section has its
peculiar advantages); but choose once for all, and, having chosen,
regard that choice as final.

4. Our young men are apt to plunge into responsibilities too hastily.
They buy farms while they lack at once experience and means, incur
losses and debts by consequent miscalculations, and drag through life a
weary load, which sours them against their pursuit, when the fault is
entirely their own. No youth should undertake to manage a farm until
after several years of training for that task under the eye of a capable
master of the art of tilling the soil. If he has enjoyed the requisite
advantages on his father's homestead, he may possibly be qualified to
manage a farm at twenty-one; but there are few who might not profitably
wait and learn, in the pay of some successful cultivator, for several
years longer; while I cannot recall an instance of a youth rushing out
of school or a city counting-house to show old farmers how their work
ought to be done, that did not result in disaster. It is very well to
know what Science teaches with regard to farming; but no man was ever a
thoroughly good farmer who had not spent some years in actual contact
with the soil.

5. While every one says of his neighbor, "He farms too much land," the
greed of acquisition does not seem at all chastened. Men stagger under
loads of debt to-day, who might relieve themselves by selling off so
much of their land as they cannot profitably use; but every one seems
intent on holding all he can, as if in expectation of a great advance in
its market value. And yet you can buy farms in every old State in the
Union as cheaply per acre as they could have been bought in like
condition sixty years ago; and I doubt their selling higher sixty years
hence than they do now. No doubt, there are lands, in the vicinage of
growing cities or villages, that have greatly advanced in value; but
these are exceptions: and I counsel every young farmer, every poor
farmer, to buy no more land than he can cultivate thoroughly, save such
as he needs for timber. Never fear that there will not be more land for
sale when you shall have the money wherewith to buy it; but shun debt as
you would the plague, and prefer forty acres all your own to a square
mile heavily mortgaged. I never lifted a mill-stone; but I have
undertaken to carry debts, and they are fearfully heavy.

6. I know that most American farms east of the Roanoke and the Wabash
have too many fields and fences, and that the too prevalent custom of
allowing cattle to prowl over meadow, tillage and forest, from September
to May, picking up a precarious and inadequate subsistence by browsing
and foraging at large, is slovenly, unthrifty, and hardly consistent
with the requirements of good neighborhood. It is at best a miseducation
of your cattle into lawless habits. I do not know just where and when
all pasturing becomes wasteful and improvident; but I do know that
pasturing fosters thistles, briers, and every noxious weed, and so is
inconsistent with cleanly and thorough tillage. I know that the same
acres will feed far more stock, and keep them in better condition, if
their food be cut and fed to them, than if they are sent out to gather
it for themselves. I know that the cost of cutting their grass and other
fodder with modern machinery need not greatly exceed that of driving
them to remote pastures in the morning and hunting them up at nightfall.
I know that penning them ten hours of each twenty-four in a filthy yard,
where they have neither food nor drink, is unwise; and I feel confident
that it is already high time, wherever good grass-land is worth $100 per
acre, to limit pasturage to one small field, as near the center of the
farm as may be, wherein shade and good water abound, into which green
rye, clover, timothy, oats, sowed corn, stalks, etc., etc., may
successively be thrown from every side, and where shelter from a cold,
driving storm, is provided; and that, if cows could be milked here and
left through night as well as day, it would be found good economy.

7. I know that most of us are slashing down our trees most
improvidently, and thus compelling our children to buy timber at thrice
the cost at which we might and should have grown it. I know that it is
wasteful to let White Birch, Hemlock, Scrub Oak, Pitch Pine, Dogwood,
etc., start up and grow on lands which might be cheaply sown with the
seeds of Locust, White Oak, Hickory, Sugar Maple, Chestnut, Black
Walnut, and White Pine. I know that no farm in a settled region is so
large that its owner can really afford to surrender a considerable
portion of it to growing indifferent cord-wood when it would as freely
grow choice timber if seeded therefor; and I feel sure that there are
few farms so small that a portion of each might not be profitably
devoted to the growing of valuable trees. I know that the common
presumption that land so devoted will yield no return for a life-time is
wrong--know that, if thickly and properly seeded, it will begin to yield
bean-poles, hoop-poles, etc., the fifth or sixth year from planting, and
thenceforth will yield more and more abundantly forever. I know that
good timber, in any well-peopled region, should not be cut off, but
cut out--thinned judiciously but moderately and trimmed up, so that it
shall grow tall and run to trunk instead of branches; and I know that
there are all about us millions of acres of rocky crests and
acclivities, steep ravines and sterile sands, that ought to be seeded to
timber forthwith, kept clear of cattle, and devoted to tree-growing

8. I do not know that all lands may be profitably underdrained. Wooded
uplands, I know, could not be. Fields which slope considerably, and so
regularly that water never stagnates upon or near their surface, do very
well without. Light, leachy sands, like those of Long Island, Southern
Jersey, Eastern Maryland, and the Carolinas, seem to do fairly without.
Yet my conviction is strong that nearly all land which is to be
persistently cultivated will in time be underdrained. I would urge no
farmer to plunge up to his neck into debt in order to underdrain his
farm. But I would press every one who has no experience on this head
to select his wettest field, or the wettest part of such field, and,
having carefully read and digested Waring's, French's, or some other
approved work on the subject, procure file and proceed next Fall to
drain that field or part of a field thoroughly, taking especial
precautions against back-water, and watch the effect until satisfied
that it will or will not pay to drain further. I think few, have drained
one acre thoroughly, and at no unnecessary cost, without being impelled
by the result to drain more and faster until they had tiled at least
half their respective farms.

9. As to irrigation, I doubt that there is a farm in the United States
where something might not be profitably done forthwith to secure
advantage from the artificial retention and application of water.
Wherever a brook or runnel crosses or skirts a farm, the question--"Can
the water here running uselessly by be retained, and in due season
equably diffused over some portion of this land?"--at once presents
itself. One who has never looked with this now will be astonished at the
facility with which some acres of nearly every farm may be irrigated.
Often, a dam that need not cost $20 will suffice to hold back ten
thousand barrels of water, so that it may be led off along the upper
edge of a slope or glade, falling off just enough to maintain a gentle,
steady current, and so providing for the application of two or three
inches of water to several acres of tillage or grass just when the
exigencies of crop and season most urgently require such irrigation. Any
farmer east of the Hudson can tell where such an application would have
doubled the crop of 1870, and precluded the hard necessity of selling or
killing cattle not easily replaced.

Of course, this is but a rude beginning. In time, we shall dam very
considerable streams mainly to this end, and irrigate hundreds and
thousands of acres from a single pond or reservoir. Wells will be sunk
on plains and gentle swells now comparatively arid and sterile, and wind
or steam employed to raise water into reservoirs whence wide areas of
surrounding or subjacent land will be refreshed at the critical moment,
and thus rendered bounteously productive. On the vast, bleak, treeless
Plains of the wild West, even Artesian wells will be sunk for this
purpose; and the water thus obtained will prove a source of fertility
as well as refreshment, enriching the soil by the minerals which it
holds in solution, and insuring bounteous crops from wide stretches of
now barren and worthless desert. Immigration will yet thickly dot the
great Sahara with oases of verdure and plenty; but it will, long ere
that, have covered the valleys of our Great Basin and those which skirt
the affluents of the savage and desolate Colorado with a beauty and
thrift surpassing the dreams of poets. And yet, its easiest and readiest
triumphs are to be won right here--in the valleys of the Connecticut,
the Hudson, the Susquehanna, and the Potomac.

10. As to Commercial Fertilizers, I think I have been well paid for the
application of Gypsum (Plaster of Paris) to my upland grass at the rate
of one bushel per acre per annum, while my tillage has been supplied
with it by dusting my stables with it after each cleaning, and so
applying it mingled with barn-yard manures. Lime (unslaked) from burned
oyster-shells, costing me from 25 to 30 cents per bushel delivered, I
have applied liberally, and I judge, with profit. Bones, ground, (the
finer the better) I have largely and I think advantageously used; but my
land had been mainly pastured for nearly two centuries before I bought
it, and thus continually drained of Phosphates, yet never replenished:
so my experience does not prove that the farmers of newer lands ought to
buy bones, though I advise them to apply all they can save or pick up at
small cost. Pound them very fine with a beetle or ax-head on a flat
stone, and give them to your fowls: if they refuse a part of them, your
soil will prove less dainty. I am not sure that it pays to buy any
manufactured Phosphate when you can get Raw Bone; though I doubt not
that, for instant effect, the Phosphate is far superior. As to Guano, it
has not paid me; but that may be the fault of careless or unskillful
application. I judge that any one who has to deal with sterile sands
that will not bring Clover, may wisely apply 400 pounds of Guano per
acre, provided he has nothing else that will answer the purpose. After
he has produced one good stand of Clover, I doubt that he can afford to
buy more Guano, unless he can apply it to better purpose than I have yet

I have a strong impression that most farmers can do better at making and
saving fertilizers than by buying them. Lime and Sulphur (Gypsum), if
your soil lacks them, you must buy; but a good farmer who keeps even a
span of horses, three or four cows, as many pigs, and a score of fowls,
can make for $100 fertilizers which I would rather have than two tuns of
Guano, costing him $180 to $200. If he has a patch of bog or a miry pond
on his farm--any place where frogs will live--he can dig thence, in the
dryest time next Fall, two or three hundred loads of Muck, which, having
been left to dry on the nearest high ground till November or later, and
then drawn up and dumped into his barn-yard, pig-pen, and fowl-house,
will be ready to come out next Spring in season for corn-planting, and,
being liberally applied, will do as much for his crop as two tons of
Guano would, and will strengthen his land far more. If he has no Muck,
and no neighbor who can spare it as well as not, let him at midsummer
cut all the weeds growing on and around his farm, and in the Fall gather
all the leaves that can be impounded, using these as litter for his
cattle and beds for his pigs, and he will be agreeably surprised at the
bulk of his heap next Spring.

I am an intense believer in Home Production. We send ten thousand miles
for Guano, and suffer the equally valuable excretions of our cities to
run to waste in rivers and bays, poisoning or driving away the fish, and
filling the air with stench and pestilence. No farmer ever yet
intelligently tried to enrich his land and was defeated by lack of
material. He may not be able to do all he would like to at first; but
persistent effort cannot be baffled.

11. Shallow culture is the most crying defect of our average farming.
Poverty may sometimes excuse it; but the excuse is stretched quite too
far. If a farmer has but a poor span of horses, or a light yoke of thin
steers, he cannot plow land as it should be plowed; but let him double
teams with his neighbor, and plow alternate clays on either farm; or, if
this may not be, let him buy or borrow a sub-soil plow, and go once
around with his surface plow, then hitch on to the sub-soil, and run
another furrow in the bottom of the former. There are a few intervales
of rich, mellow soil, deposited by the inundations of countless ages,
where shallow culture will answer, because the roots of the plants run
freely through fertile earth never yet disturbed by the plow; but these
marked and meagre exceptions do not invalidate the truth that
nine-tenths of our tillage is neither so deep nor so thorough as it
should be. As a rule, the feeding-roots of plants do not run below the
bottom of the furrows, though in some instances they do; and he who
fancies that five or six inches of soil will, under our fervid suns,
with our Summers often rainless for weeks, produce as bounteous and as
sure a crop as twelve to eighteen inches, is impervious to fact or
reason. He might as sensibly maintain that you could draw as long and as
heavily against a deposit in bank of $500 as against one of $1,500.

12. Finally, and as the sum of my convictions, we need more thought,
more study, more intellect, infused into our Agriculture, with less
blind devotion to a routine which, if ever judicious, has long since
ceased to be so. The tillage which a pioneer, fighting single-handed and
all but empty-handed with a dense forest of giant trees, which he can do
no better than to cut down and burn, found indispensable among their
stumps and roots, is not adapted to the altered circumstances of his
grandchildren. If our most energetic farmers would abstract ten hours
each per week from their incessant drudgery, and devote them to reading
and reflection with regard to their noble calling, they would live
longer, live to better purpose, and bequeath a better example, with more
property, to their children.

* * * * *

My self-imposed task is done. I undertook to tell What I Know of Farming
through one brief essay for each week in 1870; and, in the face of
multifarious and pressing duties, and in despite of a severe, protracted
illness, the work has been prosecuted to completion. Had I not kept
ahead of it while in health, there were weeks when I must have left it
unaccomplished, as I was too ill to write or even stand.

I close with the avowal of my joyful trust that these essays, slight and
imperfect as they are, will incite thousands of young farmers to feel a
loftier pride in their calling and take a livelier interest in its
improvement, and that many will be induced by them to read abler and
better works on Agriculture and the sciences which minister to its
efficiency and impel its progress toward a perfection which few as yet
have even faintly foreseen.

Previous: Winter Work

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 517